Who Owns Your Electronic Medical Records? PicnicHealth Explains

At PicnicHealth, we believe few things are as essential as having complete control over one of the most private and personal forms of information: your medical records.

Health records and medical records tell an intimate story of our bodies’ illnesses, strengths, weaknesses, the procedures we may have undergone, and the prescriptions we have. They hold so much personal information that they’re heavily protected by law, tying them into the bounds of doctor-patient confidentiality. They’re a need-to-know kind of information and the kind that no one but the patient should have real control over.

Yet many people still ask, what are my electronic medical records, and what are my rights with them?

What is an Electronic Medical Record?

The way the medical field now handles medical records has transformed. With the rise of the digital age, charts, prescriptions, and other medical paperwork have been digitized for easier processing and sharing. An electronic medical record (also known as an electronic health record) is a digital compilation of your health information. In many ways, it’s superior to the ink and paper charts we’ve been used to seeing.

What you’ll find in an EMR

A medical record consists of any documentation from a visit to a healthcare professional. It includes doctor’s notes, vital signs, treatment history, drugs prescribed, progress documentation, test results, imaging, and even administrative data. An electronic medical record is the portion of your medical records that are in digital format, which may not include everything that was traditionally in paper medical records—especially retroactively. Electronic medical records are generally housed in a software system used by a doctor or hospital; since there are many different systems providers use, the records from one office usually won’t include any of the records from another office. So your records from each doctor or hospital often exist in different systems.

This leads to the critical question: Who actually owns them?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule

It’s natural to assume that the patient automatically takes ownership of records about their own health. According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the original physical medical record is the property of the physician’s office that generated it. However, the data on the medical records are the property of the patients themselves.

This ownership is why patients are allowed to have a copy of their records, but not the originals themselves. Healthcare facilities themselves are required to carefully protect these medical records and prevent them from getting into the hands of unauthorized personnel. They may also charge patients a fee for obtaining a copy of those records.

A Variety of Laws

Every state may have a different law with regards to who gets to own the medical records. Only New Hampshire has actually given patients sole ownership of their data. For the most part, the developments in digitalization have enabled patients to gain better access to their information regardless of where they are located.

The laws that govern medical records mostly refer to patients’ privacy, security, and accuracy. However, once that data is put into physical or electronic form, the healthcare provider becomes the legal custodian of it.

What does ownership really mean?

It’s not a matter of who has the “original” copy, but who truly owns the data on it. That remains with the patient. Patients have the right to view their data and get copies (in virtually any format), and they can also request changes to the health information as needed. More than 80% of patients say that things are more accessible now than ever before—yet there is still a long way to go until all systems can transfer data seamlessly to ensure a patient’s different doctors all have access to the information they need to provide the best care.

Ultimately, patients have tremendous power over their medical records in terms of accessibility. They just don’t technically “own” the records themselves.  

Want to get better access to all your medical records? Visit PicnicHealth.com and learn about how you can get full control over your records in a single digital timeline of your all medical records.